Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Here is a super-basic introduction to some common types of construction using thread or yarn.  Basically, fabric is made by interweaving threads in some sort of pattern that locks them together.  The techniques throughout history are countless...Here are a few...
Remember friendship braids & lanyards?  If you knot colored yarn, you create a sturdy, patterned band of fabric.  Each knot creates a pixel of color.  You can control pattern with the knots, or even make eyelets (decorative or functional holes in your fabric), by how you swap the threads around.  You can string beads onto the threads and knot them into the eyelets, etc.
Making a loose, open-work knotting structure with thick yarn or twine is how you make macrame or netting.

Braiding/Cord-making:  Kumihimo...

A traditional wooden Kumihimo stand
Braiding is a twisting of 3 or more threads that creates a patterned cord or fabric.  Frequently the "ends" of hand-made fabric are braided together to create an accent border.
Kumihimo is a traditional Japanese cord-making technique that takes braiding to another level.
A series of yarn bobbins (thread-wound spools) hang from a hollow, often spool-type wood structure, with their ends knotted together and hanging down the center.  In contemporary kumihimo construction, they may instead be threaded onto a foam card with narrow grooves around the edge to wedge thread into.  

A contemporary Kumihimo weaving disk

The yarns are secured together, and then the bobbins are moved from spot to spot along the device's rim, weaving the threads over and around each other in a predetermined choreography to create a patterned cord  that feeds through the hollow middle section.

A lot of contemporary Kumihimo is made of woven strands of beads that make striking jewelry.

Here is an amazing example of traditional Kumihimo.  In this link, a member of the UK Braid Society demonstrates kumihimo with three of her kumihimo frames.

Lacemaking: Tatting, Bobbin-Lace, etc.
Lace-making basically involves using a very fine thread (frequently just sewing thread!) to create an open-work fabric.  There are hundreds (thousands?) of kinds of lace-making.
This is an example of Clones Lace, by a friend of mine.  Her multi-great grandmothers used to do piecework for the lace industry near Clones, Co. Monaghan, Ireland, around the turn of the 19th century.
Tatting uses a sewing or specialized tatting needle in much the same way as crochet, knotting and looping a single thread to create little loops that are in turn knotted and looped into larger, more complex loops, which all come together to form a pattern.  

RustiKate provides an excellent series of tutorials for tatting on YouTube.  Here is a link to Lesson #1.
Bobbin Lace involves any number of thread-wound bobbins (spools), that are twisted and braided together all at once to create an image or pattern that grows from the inside out.  Each thread is held in place as needed by pins.  Very ambitious pieces use dozens of pins & bobbins!
There are some very exciting bobbin-lace videos on YouTube...A lot of ladies seem to do traditional bobbin-lace-making in open-air markets...You should check them out!

Here is one slowed-down (!) demonstration of Bobbin Lace-Making, and here is the making of a small Madonna piece, also demonstrated slowly.

Crochet & Knitting: Understanding Slip-Knots.
Many people get intimidated by crochet & knitting, but it all breaks down to slip-knots, in various combinations and orientations.
What Is A Slip Knot?
A slip-knot is basically a loose loop of thread that is pulled through a twisted loop or  knot which is then tightened and holds the loop in place.  By pulling on the loose end (the unsecured end) of the slip-knot, it "slips" back out and unties.  An easy example is to think of is shoes: the bows of tied shoe-laces are both slip-knots.
Crochet (1 slip-knot at a time)
A crocheted scarf with a crochet border
With crochet, the crocheter is making a continuous chain of slip-knots.  If he or she were to remove the crochet hook and pull on the unsecured yarn at the top of the chain, the entire chain would untie.  To make fabric, one simply starts looping through the finished chain from the side, as well as from the top, most recent loop.  It helps to think of crochet as a zig-zaging line of yarn.  You can double this line back and forth as much as you like, to create a shape or pattern.
Knitting (a series of slip-knots in a row, all at once)
In contrast, knitting is also employing slip knots, but several of them all at once, in rows.  Each slip knot is looped over a knitting needle, forming your most recent row.  If you took the unfinished knitting project off the needle, all of the unsecured loops would slip out of the loops from the row before, etc.  
There are many named stitches for knitting and crocheting, but even if you don't have any formal training, you can create something free-form by “increasing” (creating multiple loops by threading through an origin loop to increase width) or “decreasing”  (combining multiple loops into 1 loop to gradually shrink your width) to achieve the effect you want.  It's a learning process--I don't know any fancy patterns or stitches, but I can make the yarn do what I want it to do to create a shape I want...usually.  

I personally am really impressed by patterns, but I have a long way to go to understanding all of the terminology.  However, you'll find, that as long as you can keep track of a few stitches, you can try free-form knitting or crocheting.  This hands-on learning is fun and will help you in following or creating patterns later...
Get Creative!: Open-work & Cabling...

A couple examples of cable and pattern-work, knitted by my aunt.
You can use any of the previous techniques to create a visual or structural pattern.  Switch up the colors or add beads, and the fabric instantly looks different.  Increase or decrease stitches to change the width and structure of your fabric.  Alternate knots or stitches to create a texture change or to create eyelets to work decorative holes into your design. Try cabling, which is when you separate your knitting into sections and swap them around with other sections to create a braiding effect in your knitted end-product.
Here are a couple scarves I made.  I knitted each color separately, on its own needle.  Whenever my colors overlapped in my braid, I would knit them together for a stitch, and then continue knitting. The result: a sort of free-standing cable...
If you want to learn traditional techniques and terminology, I recommend checking out a pattern or video that has step-by-step visuals, so that you can follow along with your own equipment.  Some people learn better with tangible demonstrations, while others prefer to scrutinize charts or diagrams.  But I find that no matter how you learn, understanding the mechanics of yarn, and the differing appearance of those loops and weave structures and patterns from the "front" and "back," can really help when trying to read a pattern later.  For example, "knit" and "purl" are the same stitch, but facing opposite sides of the fabric.  It can also be helpful to compare your progressing fabric with a picture, to help you grasp the pattern.

Adding a thin colorful thread to create visual contrast.
Weaving is a series of threads that "weave" over and under each other to form a fabric.  Unlike knitting or crocheting, which use one thread to build structure, weaving uses many all at once.  The "warp" is the group of threads that are threaded vertically through the loom, and each thread will lift or lower according to a weaving pattern.  This raising and lowering creates a "shed," a gap, through which you pass a horizontal "weft" thread. With the next row, the combination of raised and lowered warp threads changes, locking in the previous row of yarn and creating a new shed.

This is an example of Bronson Lace, which is woven on a loom.

An old example of my free-style embroidery...
Once you know a few techniques: Experiment!

Once you know a few techniques, you can go wild!    Sew things onto other things! Get ideas from other parts of the world!
Here's an interesting fusion of crochet and patchwork from Cotacachi, Ecuador.  Scraps of left-over leather are crocheted into a scarf.

Hat or Handbag?
Here is an example of a free-style bag I made, that could have ended up as a hat or a bag...I knitted the bag according to whim, increasing and decreasing the diameter to give it a little more volume. I then crocheted the flowers and sewed them onto the bag as decorative pockets.   Add handles and a lining and voila!
After: Handbag!!
Before: Hat!!
Add: Lining & Handles

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The "Back to Back" International Wool Challenge

This last month, my guild had a booth at the local Fiber Art Fiesta.  It's a growing local event that draws weavers and spinners from the area, and showcases their work to the community.  There's a weaver's barn, and a music stage, and even a few live alpacas.  There's a lot of enthusiasm, and MOUNTAINS of yarn for sale.  Two of the tents shaded spinners and some of the San Diego "Back to Back" team.

Several ladies in the area have gotten really into competing in the International "Back-to-Back" Wool Challenge, where a team shears, cards, spins and knits a sweater as a timed event.  They have 8 team members and a goal of less than 8 hours to succeed.  The event benefits local shepherds and spinners, the industry as a whole, and cancer research.  The San Diego team demonstrates at local museums and fiber events to warm up for the annual challenge, and to educate about both cancer and fiber arts.

The current Guinness world record was established in 2004 by Australia’s Merriwa Jumbucks, with a World Record Time of 4 hours  51 minutes and 14 seconds (!)

Here's a fun article on the results of this past June's "Back to Back" event.

A team from the Netherlands placed first, beating both the Netherlands and Mainland Europe records.